Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day 2014 and funny signs

The American Cemetery in Manila, decorated for Memorial Day, 2014.
Because Monday is not celebrated as a holiday in the Philippines, this commemoration is always held on the preceding Sunday.  Every one of the over 17,000 graves has an American flag and a Philippine flag placed in front of its marker.  This tradition hearkens back almost 150 years to the time when this holiday was called "Decoration Day" at its inception shortly after the American Civil War.

Grave of Leonard Wilski, a great-uncle of our daughter-in-law Carolyn

U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines, Philip Goldberg, speaks to the gathering

 Some of the many beautiful wreaths presented, these ones by the United States, the Philippines, and several other nations with dignitaries in attendance

 Wreaths presented by: (center) the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines and the Filipino American Memorial Endowment, (left) the American Association of the Philippines, and (right) an American Legion Post frame us and Dan McKinnon, an email friend, who has now become a face-to-face friend.
Wreath offered by AWON, the American World War II Orphans Network

 Our Aussie friend, Paul Whitman, presenting photo disk to Steve.  Paul is working with the Filipinas Heritage Library within the Ayala Museum to digitize the photos of World War II in the Philippines.

 Bob Hudson, author of the feature article, and Steve, contributing photographer for the cover, holding the April issue of the AMCHAM Business Journal

 Steve's photo of the cross at Mount Samat National Shrine, with a superimposed photo of the Bataan Death March provided by The American Historical Collection

 Marcia with Boy Scout leaders.
Their scouts were in charge of the very important job of handing out drinking water to attendees, as well as collecting the empty bottles.

And now a change of mood

Paul Whitman thought to himself as he passed this before the ceremony, "This is one 'big ass fan.'"  The fan must be at least six feet in diameter.

It turns out he was right!

After the ceremony we went to breakfast with our friend Mark and his son and daughter, who collected name tags from some of the dignitaries.  Here Paul sports the tag from one of the guest speakers, Admiral Samuel Locklear, Commander, U.S. Pacific Command, U.S. Navy. 

A picture taken recently by our friend Ebb while on an outing in the Province of Batangas.  What is a "High Speed Sewer?"  
Think about it...

This has GOT to be one of the funniest signs ever!  Marcia spotted it when Joe, our friends' driver, stopped at a fuel station.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Navy Intercept Tunnel and bye-bye eaglets!

Steve has long wanted to explore the "Navy Intercept Tunnel" on Tailside, near Kindley Field.  It was the scene of a huge interior explosion in February of 1945, when 200 Japanese soldiers inside the tunnel and 50 American soldiers above the tunnel were killed during the fight to liberate Corregidor.

Steve waited until we had guests willing and eager to accompany him.  Chris, the man who donated two chainsaw for trail clearing here, along with his friend DonDon and Chris's wife Lani, came out to the island for a couple of days.  When we all reached the tunnel entrance, Marcia and Lani chose the better part of discretion and remained outside, helping with the ropes required to enter and exit the tunnel.

The tunnel is shaped and situated like a capital Y, with only the northwest entrance still open.  It requires going through a small opening, straight down about six feet, then a fifty-foot descent at about a forty-five degree incline.  Going down is a lot easier than coming up, as you can imagine, thanks to our rope with strategic knots to control one's descent.  The temperature inside the tunnel was no cooler than it was outside, definitely over 90 degrees and humid.  By the time the three  guys were done exploring, Steve was soaked with sweat and very tired, and required help from Chris, who boosted Steve up the incline while DonDon assisted from above.  A true adventure!

Overgrown stairway to the NW entrance of the Navy Intercept Tunnel

Passageway inside the tunnel

The inside of the tunnel was mostly collapsed from the explosion, so what you see today is fallen concrete ceilings on top of lots of soil that is mostly volcanic ash.  At the junction of the three tunnel branches is a concrete air shaft.  The explosion was so great that all of the dirt that had been back-filled around the shaft after it had been poured was blown away, leaving a twenty-foot high tube, which is clearly visible on the surface, standing in a huge crater.

Ventilation shaft near the junction of the tunnel's three branches

Later, Marcia accompanied Chris and DonDon down a steep hill to look for the main, southern entrance.  Steve was sure he could make it down but so hot and tired that he wasn't sure he could make it back up, so he passed on going down the hill, as Marcia had done on going into the tunnel.

Concrete walls, one standing and one fallen, and concrete rubble near the main entrance, below and south of the road

Base of a very old telephone or telegraph pole near the main entrance

Concrete wall believed to have been for handball, also near the main entrance, with Chris and DonDon to give you some size perspective.

Marcia continues to look for bird photo opportunities.  She was pretty excited to finally get decent photos of Philippine Pygmy Woodpeckers last week, after having seen one or more several times, and having one of them play 'peek-a-boo' from behind a branch without ever coming around so she could get a shot of it.

Three Philippine Pygmy Woodpeckers in a tall front yard tree

 Two woodpeckers busy eating, and a third one flying in from the right to join them - note the beautiful color pattern on the wings

Two Blue-throated Bee-eaters recently perched in our back yard, giving Marcia a chance to get a closer photo of their beautiful and brilliant colors

A Lowland White-eye adult feeding its hungry chick in their nest in our jackfruit tree.  Not exactly the cutest baby; a face only a mother could love!

A Brahminy Kite (bright reddish brown body just upper left of center) on its nest, with two chicks in the foreground - yes it takes some hunting and imagination to pick out the two yellowish 'blobs' in the shadows, but we are standing atop a very high cliff and their tree top nest is at least 150-200 feet below us.  Our 320-zoom lens is struggling to get this good a shot!

If you've been following our recent blogs, you are aware that we have been watching two White-bellied Sea-eaglets as they have been growing.  Day after day we went back, expecting that the eaglets would have "flown the coop."  Alas, it has finally happened, but not before they gave us a month of opportunities to witness them grow, all under the watchful eyes of one or both parents.  As soon as they noted our approach, the parents would circle above the nest, trying to draw our attention away from the eaglets with loud sounds that fall somewhere between a caw and a honk.

'Our' White-bellied Sea-eaglets, fully feathered and looking almost ready to fly, May 8

Eaglets, old enough to know that they should watch us as well

Eaglets, May 10, still nest-bound.  The only difference Marcia has noticed between the two eaglets is that one has more brown - and the other more white - on its head.

The bolder eaglet, the darker headed one, is perched on a branch outside the nest, May 11

The more cautious eaglet, the whiter-headed one, flying to perch on a branch above the nest, May 12

The eaglet, having reached the branch, seems to be a little unsure about it

One of the adults, watching us as we watch its young

An adult Sea-eagle makes a tight turn above Battery Cheney, screaming its complaints about a Brahminy Kite that is 'dive-bombing' it from overhead (not seen in photo)

The eaglets are gone now from their nest, although at least one of the parents has still been near the nest.  We are not sure if they will all leave the area soon, or if they are planning on raising another family.  If they should decide to reuse the nest, we will not be able to see the eggs, since the nest is at eye level, as opposed to last year when we could peer down on the nest.  But if you remember, last year's pair of eaglets barely survived pass their hatch date, while this year we have two new juvenile eagles!

Steve and Marcia on the Rock

Friday, May 2, 2014

Corregidor nature shots from the heavens to the earth

May has arrived, and the last few weeks have been hot!  We'd guess the daily high temperature has been near 100 degrees Fahrenheit, 38 on the Celsius scale.  We're hearing thunder every afternoon, and have had a couple of quick thunderstorms hit Corregidor, too, which only adds to the humidity.  Sometimes it is so humid/hazy that you can barely make out Bataan, which is less than four miles across the bay from Corregidor.

The mostly rain-free weather has given us opportunities to spend time hiking and taking pictures, and we've included twenty-three recent photos in this blog, including updates on 'our' bird families for those of you who are vicariously following their progress.

We rarely get to see the actual sunrise, but have had some gorgeous morning color lately.  This past moon cycle presented three mornings with beautiful moonrises, and thanks to the birds and the monkeys we were awake in plenty of time to see them.

Early morning moonrise, April 27

The "parachute dome" on Topside was designed so that the circle of sunlight that shines through the dome's oculus would center on the altar at noon on May 6, when we commemorate the "Fall of Corregidor."  In reality, this year's actual occurrence of full-altar illumination was shortly before noon on the last day of April, and by noon on May 6 the "sun-circle" will miss by more than a foot.  Now if we could only get the sun to cooperate!

April 30 at 11:55 AM, full solar coverage at parachute dome memorial altar

One of the many interesting trees here is called "Lanete" or "Laniti."  The seeds form in a long, narrow pod, much like those produced by many leguminous plants.  However, when they ripen and burst open, the seeds are like those of milkweed plants, each with a fuzzy attachment that allows it to float through the air for a long distance.  We are aware of three lanete trees on the island, although there are likely many more than that, with one currently in fragrant bloom while another is already releasing its seeds.

Lanete (laniti) seed pods and seeds, Middleside near the house

Lanete tree blossoms, Battery Cheney

Unknown (to us) tree with red berries, along the road near Battery Geary.  Can you help???

Back in 2007, when we began contemplating the idea of living on Corregidor, one item in the "plus column" was that we'd be able to hike without constant vigilance for poison ivy and its North American relatives.  Both of us are allergic to them, Marcia more strongly than Steve.  She is also allergic to cashew nuts, which come from a tree in the same plant family as poison ivy.  Some time after we settled into life on Corregidor, we learned that one kind of tree that grows prolifically on the island is essentially a wild cashew.  Its Tagalog name is "Ligas," and it produces fruit and nuts that are a miniature version of those one can see on cashew trees.  We've heard that they are also edible.  If you have never seen how cashew nuts develop, each one attached to an also-edible fruit, it's worth a few minutes of Google time.  The following two photos show ligas fruit, green when unripe and red when ripe, and the nuts, a dark purple-blue color.  Skin-contact with ligas leaves (which look nothing at all like those of poison ivy or cashew, and are similar to leaves on many other trees here) will elicit the same rash reaction as contact with poison ivy, although so far it has proved to be a much milder reaction.  We are also getting much better at spotting the trees and avoiding contact.

Ligas fruit and nuts

Ligas leaves around clusters of fruit and nuts

There are many beautiful butterflies on The Rock, though most are not easy to photograph.  This one was cooperative, opening and closing its wings quite often and staying pretty much in the same place for several minutes, allowing Marcia to get these shots.  The light blue patches appear white in some lighting, and more brilliantly pastel blue in other.  It is comparable in size to the viceroy species we know from our years in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Butterfly near Battery Cheney

Same butterfly with folded wings
Another topic of conversation back in 2007 was the need for window and door screens for our living quarters on Corregidor.  More than five and a half years later, the metal screen fabric is so corroded that we cannot clean the dust from the screens without the metal disintegrating.  This moth found that a dusty screen provides the perfect camouflage.  (We are awaiting replacement of the screens, having had the fabric on hand for some time.)

Moth on screen

It's taken Marcia a long time to finally get pictures of  Blue-throated Bee-eaters, having seen small flocks several times on Corregidor and once on Leyte.  We were driving down the hill after hiking a few days ago when she spotted several of them in a tree near the old Topside swimming pool.  Fortunately they stuck around long enough for Marcia to take photos, although we'll hope for a better lighting angle next time.  They have very striking coloring, as well as their distinctive long central-tail feathers which are evident on the top bird.

Blue-throated Bee-eaters

Gilbert discovered a nest of bulbuls in our yard a couple of weeks ago while trimming bushes.  We are amazed at how quickly they went from hatchlings (we don't know the exact day) to being able to fly, which we witnessed on Friday morning (May 2).  That's only ten days from the first photo.

Newly-hatched bulbuls April 22

Baby bulbuls eight days later

Adult bulbuls watching their nest

In March, a pair of lowland white-eyes built a nest in our jackfruit tree.  When we returned after the April tour, the nest was in rough shape.  Either the babies had already matured, or they may have been raided by monkeys or other birds.  The parents are doing it again, as shown in the next photo, although this second nest is on a different branch from the first one.

Lowland white-eye parent on new nest

We've also been following a Brahminy kite nest, and the eggs are still awaiting hatching.  It seems like it has to be soon!  Quite often, the adult will slip from the nest and soar out over the sea, maybe hoping to attract our attention away from the nest.

Brahminy Kite eggs in nest

Brahminy Kite parent soaring over the West Philippine Sea

We also continue to monitor the white-bellied sea-eagle nest.  The two babies have grown very quickly, and we are surprised that they haven't flown away yet.  Any day they will be gone, two new juvenile eagles.  We wonder if their parents will chase them away from Corregidor, or if there is enough room for them to take up residence.  Just yesterday we saw another sea-eagle at Tailside, so it is possible that we have two pair on the island.

Eaglet in shadow at left, and adult eagle April 23

White-bellied Sea-eaglets yesterday

The same eaglets today

Eaglet in vulture pose

Yesterday Marcia spent the morning hiking with our latest new friend, Mike O'Donnell.  They visited Wheeler Tunnel, and Mike captured the following photo with his cell-phone camera.  Notice that Marcia is 'skooching' her middle finger toward her index cannot hear her telling Mike, "Hurry up - it's moving!"  These arachnids are harmless to humans, at least to those who don't freak out over spiders, but it was still unnerving to realize it was slowly sliding its longest appendage toward her finger.  It is also the largest one of them she's seen.

Marcia's hand next to a tailless whip-scorpion (African cave spider)

Monitor lizards are very shy, so Marcia got really lucky with this young one, who posed for quite some time, only about ten feet away from her and Mike.  Their estimate of its length was 18-20 inches, the last 6-8 of which is a very thin tail hidden in the grass.

Young Monitor Lizard, near Wheeler-Cheney road junction

Closeup of same Monitor with forked tongue extended

We hope that you enjoyed these nature shots, and that they tempt some of you to think seriously about coming to hike the trails with us!

Steve and Marcia on the Rock